February 2002

Allette Brooks - Swim With Me
The Orchard 801662
Released: 2002

by Anthony Di Marco

Musical Performance ***1/2
Recording Quality **1/2
Overall Enjoyment **

[Reviewed on CD]Allette Brooks’ Swim With Me can be best classified as folk. Her passionate delivery of simple, yet pensive lyrics is set against a backdrop of gentle percussion, acoustic guitar and, occasionally, piano. Her voice is the focus of the songs and rises above the instruments, which underscore the inflections she applies to each lyric. "Never Was," "Refuge" and "Okavango" illustrate this tendency vibrantly.

Some of Ms. Brooks’ arrangements edge, ever so slightly, toward country ("Fireflies") and rock ("Rolling Blackout"), but the mingling between styles is subtle. Slide-guitar harmonies and changes in rhythm add flavor without adversely affecting the overall arrangement. Her songs are not simply pop songs in the guise of a folksy riff; they are songs that have roots in the spirit of telling stories.

A classically trained vocalist who cut her teeth on guitar late in life, Allette Brooks has obvious talent. But despite her story-telling ability, her music didn’t win me over every time. Both "Rolling Blackout" and "Same Room" came across as heavy-handed, which is ironic, since one could definitely argue that "Same Room" is one of the most folk-influenced songs on the album. One could also call me an insensitive energy hog, given my difficulty with "Rolling Black Out." Chances are, though, that my personal aversions toward atonal keys or off-time rhythms may have undermined my ability to connect with the tunes. These songs were, however, not where the album ultimately faltered for me.

Brooks’ talents extend to the production of her album, which makes sense, when you consider that the sonic sweetening of the songs has a bearing on the tone of the album. Yet, having listened to the CD through various headphones and speakers, I found one critical quality lacking: warmth. Despite being technically well recorded, Swim With Me had a distinct chill running through each of its tracks. As a result, it failed to convey the relaxed, cozy, feeling I often get when listening to other folk artists such as Mary Black.

The recording techniques used for Swim With Me compromised the overall effectiveness of a genuine talent. The songs were well written and elegant in their simplicity, but the feeling I came away with was less than inviting.